A SAG-AFTRA strike appears to be imminent, as talks with the studios have concluded without a deal or an extension. The union’s contract officially expired at midnight.

SAG-AFTRA Strike Imminent
SAG-AFTRA Strike Imminent

The union said in a statement that the negotiating committee unanimously recommended a strike.

The union’s national board is poised to call a strike on Thursday morning, halting scripted film and television production by the companies represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher said in a statement that the AMPTP’s responses to its primary problems were “insulting and disrespectful.”

“SAG-AFTRA negotiated in good faith and was eager to reach a deal that sufficiently addressed performer needs, but the AMPTP’s responses to the union’s most important proposals have been insulting and disrespectful of our massive contributions to this industry,” Drescher stated. “The companies have refused to engage meaningfully on some topics and have completely stonewalled us on others.” We can’t start negotiating until they do so in good faith.”

Production has already been dramatically curtailed due to the Writers Guild of America strike, which began on May 2.

SAG-AFTRA, which represents 160,000 performers, has not gone on strike against the film and TV companies since 1980. The last time the actors and writers were on strike simultaneously was 1960.

The AMPTP said in a statement that it was disappointed in the outcome of the talks.

“We are deeply disappointed that SAG-AFTRA has decided to walk away from negotiations,” the employer group said. “This is the Union’s choice, not ours. In doing so, it has dismissed our offer of historic pay and residual increases, substantially higher caps on pension and health contributions, audition protections, shortened series option periods, a groundbreaking AI proposal that protects actors’ digital likenesses, and more. Rather than continuing to negotiate, SAG-AFTRA has put us on a course that will deepen the financial hardship for thousands who depend on the industry for their livelihoods.”

The union is seeking a streaming residual formula that would account for the success of shows. The studios have been unwilling to disclose their own viewership data, leading SAG-AFTRA to propose using metrics from Parrot Analytics, a third-party data firm.

It is also seeking regulations on the use of artificial intelligence, which would require that actors be paid for any AI-generated use of their likeness, as well as limits on self-taped auditions and a host of other issues.

In a message to its members early Thursday, the union highlighted both streaming and AI as core issues in the negotiations.

“As you know, over the past decade, your compensation has been severely eroded by the rise of the streaming ecosystem,” the union wrote. “Furthermore, artificial intelligence poses an existential threat to creative professions, and all actors and performers deserve contract language that protects them from having their identity and talent exploited without consent and pay. Despite our team’s dedication to advocating on your behalf, the AMPTP has refused to acknowledge that enormous shifts in the industry and economy have had a detrimental impact on those who perform labor for the studios.”

SAG-AFTRA national executive director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland echoed such sentiments, claiming that the studios “have implemented massive unilateral changes in our industry’s business model, while insisting on keeping our contracts frozen in amber.”

“That’s not how you treat a valued, respected partner and essential contributor,” Crabtree-Ireland explained. “What has brought us to this point is their refusal to engage meaningfully with our key proposals, as well as the fundamental disrespect shown to our members.” The studios and streamers have overestimated our members’ determination, as they are about to find out.”

The union began talks on June 7. Drescher, who is also the chair of the negotiating committee, had said that talks had been “extremely productive” in a video message to members on June 24. The two sides agreed on June 30 to extend the contract for another 12 days, in a sign that they saw some hope of reaching a deal.

But the talks have become far more acrimonious in recent days. On Monday, top studio executives agreed to propose bringing in federal mediators to help resolve the dispute. While SAG-AFTRA agreed to mediation, it also blasted the last-minute move as a “cynical ploy” to seek a second extension.

The union also said that it remains interested in getting a deal, but suggested that the studios do not “have any intention of bargaining toward an agreement.”

The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service dispatched a mediator on Wednesday who was on hand for the final day of talks.

The union’s membership has been asking the leadership to adopt a tough stance. More than 2,000 performers signed a letter two weeks ago urging the leadership not to accept anything less than a “transformative” arrangement.

“This is not the time to meet in the middle, and it is not an exaggeration to say that history’s eyes are on all of us,” the letter concluded.

Many members have already joined authors on picket lines in front of major studios. On Tuesday, performers gathered at different WGA picket lines to receive strike logistical instruction from WGA strike leaders.

SAG-AFTRA members voted 98% in favor of a strike authorization in early June, giving leadership the authority to strike.

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